Deviled : Rae Armantrout : a reader’s guide

My dreams are cruel
children. They taunt me.

I dream I’m telling a story
the punch line of which
will involve deviled eggs.
I’m saying
some idiot
asked me where they originated.
I found that funny
or unfair.
Launched into this anecdote,
this dream, this poem,
I’m already worried. Now I see
the pair I’m addressing
have put their heads together,
hatching something,
over the crosswords.

-Rae Armantrout

The key to interpreting a poem is to follow its pictures and suggestions. Ask questions of this word or phrase. Ask why certain things are mentioned and others not. Sometimes a word is unusual or surprising and asking yourself why may lead you to an answer. Not all questions will help with the poem, nor all answers integral to understanding them poem, but the mere asking them might open up the meaning of the poem. The following questions are designed to help you work through the poem.


  1. What are the likely attributes of cruel children?
  2. What would be a situation wherein cruel children taunt?
  3. What are cruel children likely to say when they’re taunting?
  4. What type of stories have punch lines?
  5. What is a joke whose punch line is “deviled eggs”?
  6. Any clues as to why the other speaker mentioned is an “idiot”?
  7. Where what “originated”?
  8. Why is that question “funny”?
  9. Why is that question “unfair”?
  10. What is an “anecdote” and how is it different from a joke or a parable?
  11. Why is the speaker of the poem “worried”?
  12. How many people is the speaker addressing in the dream?
  13. What does it mean for two people to “put their heads together”?
  14. Could “put their heads together” indicate another act?
  15. What does it mean to “hatch” something?
  16. Does the idea of “hatching” connect with any other image in the poem?
  17. The two people put their heads together over what?
  18. Are you sure? That thing you’re thinking of is what is mentioned in the poem?
  19. Could the final word indicate something else?
  20. Do you think I’d make you spend this much time on a poem if I didn’t think it were a deep and weighty poem?
Other Close Readings: